Every attempt I made over the last several days to sit and write a recruiting article for Red Cup Rebellion dot com was thwarted by the specter of the Kiffin-to-Auburn rumors. Amidst coaching changes, recruiting classes get blown apart and patched back together, so it’s tough to write about official visits, etc. when the whole thing could come crashing down.
But now, Ole Miss breathes a sigh of relief, and Lane Kiffin (who we can only hope learned some kind of lesson from the last few weeks) can get back to the business of program building.
News about the 2023 class has been extremely scarce, given that Ole Miss only has a few prospects left in play, and is saving several spots for additions from the transfer portal. Quarterback commit Marcel Reed appears to have taken a visit to Texas A&M, to see the Aggies secure a confusing fifth win (lol) over #5 LSU (LMAO). That visit may have been a product of the uncertainty surrounding Kiffin, but with news of LK’s extension, Reed is likely locked in with the Rebs. Two four-star Mississippi prospects, Dante Dowdell and Isaac Smith, were both in town for the Egg Bowl. Unclear if that’s a good thing or not, given the Rebs’ flat performance, but their apparent interest keeps alive the potential for Ole Miss to sweep the top five players in Mississippi.
But let’s shift focus on something that hasn’t been discussed at length. If you hop on over to the Ole Miss athletics department’s website and peep at the official football roster, you’ll notice a slew of Seniors with little asterisks by their names, denoting an extra year of eligibility due to the weird COVID-19 season. There are 18 such seniors on the Ole Miss roster, and 15 by my count are scholarship players:
- Miles Battle (cornerback)
- Deantre Prince (cornerback)
- AJ Finley (safety)
- Dashaun Jerkins (safety)
- KD Hill (defensive tackle)
- Ashanti Cistrunk (linebacker)
- Nick Broeker (offensive line)
- Jalen Cunningham (offensive line)
- Hamilton Hall (offensive line)
- Isaiah Woulland (running back)
- Jonathan Hess (tight end)
- Jonathan Mingo (wide receiver)
- Jaylon Robinson (wide receiver)
- Jalen Knox (wide receiver)
- Qua Davis (wide receiver)
Among that group, in my opinion there are six that are potential 2023 NFL draft picks: Broeker, Prince, Mingo, Finley, Battle, and Hill. However, none are projected to be drafted in the first three rounds, according to a consensus of draft rankings from CBS, PFF, and Bleacher Report. So if you’re Lane Kiffin, do you argue that these players are likely to improve their draft stock with another year at Ole Miss? Do you offer NIL deals for them to return, and hedge against the possibility of going undrafted? Returning any one of those six guys is a huge boost, but I think if you’re Kiffin, you have to try to give them good career advice one way or the other.
Speaking of those draft rankings, Junior running back Zach Evans is ranked #70 according to CBS and junior defensive tackle JJ Pegues is ranked #98 by PFF. Fellow juniors Cedrick Johnson and Jeremy James could also be considered outside risks to enter the draft. Again, Kiffin will be tasked with recruiting these guys to return and improve their stock.
While Kiffin is busy recruiting his existing roster, he’ll also be faced with convincing valuable contributors (or more likely, future valuable contributors) not to hop in the transfer portal. Kiffin has had phenomenal success so far remaining a beneficiary of the portal and not a victim. Ole Miss lost linebacker Jaquez Jones and defensive back Keidron Smith to Kentucky, but neither were likely starters, and those are the only two major contributors the Rebels have lost to the portal. That won’t be the case forever.
To those paying attention, Quinshon Judkins is without a doubt the biggest target on the Ole Miss roster for elite programs looking for their own portal upgrades. The Alabama native was spurned by Bama and Auburn as a high school recruit, but either school would now kill to have him. Fortunately, it appears as though Q is nearing a revised NIL agreement (hopefully a huge one) that would keep him in Oxford as the focal point of the Rebel offense.
So Rebel fans, buckle up for the Dynasty Mode portion of the season. Unspoiled by actual football games, it’s the most perfect time of year for college football fans who are always dreaming about Next Year (definitely talking about myself here). Kiffin has proven surprisingly good at Dynasty Mode through three years, but with fallout from the Auburn drama and a 0-3 finish to the season, he’ll definitely have his work cut out for him.